ESPN tennis analyst Doug Adler was widely criticized for likening Venus Williams to a “gorilla” as she played in the Australian Open. The 58-year-old former pro subsequently issued an on-air apology and clarified that the word he used was “guerrilla.”
“You see Venus move in and put the gorilla effect on. Charging.”
Viewers, and some who heard about it later, took to Twitter to express their outrage, including New York Times tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg.
Take action ESPN. This is unacceptable.— JanS 🇨🇦 (@serve4thematch) January 19, 2017
Adler apologized during a men’s match the next day and said (via the AP) that he “simply and inadvertently chose the wrong word to describe her play.” He added of Williams, “She’s a great champion and I respect her immensely.”
An ESPN spokesman provided The Post with this statement from the network:
“During an Australian Open stream on ESPN3, Doug Adler should have been more careful in his word selection. He apologized and we have removed him from his remaining assignments.”
“Whether it was intended or not, people should know not to compare black people to African animals,” Rothenberg said to RTSport. “Sadly, there’s a history of it happening with the Williamses in particular, and I’d hope that everyone would be aware of those very basic sensitivities by 2017.”
The 17th-ranked Williams and her second-ranked sister Serena have 29 Grand Slam singles titles between them, but have also experienced episodes of racism in the tennis world. They recently began playing the Indian Wells (Calif.) event again after boycotting it since 2001, when they were jeered and their father, Richard Williams, claimed to have been called racial epithets by some fans in attendance.
In 2014, the head of the Russian Tennis Federation referred to the sisters as “Williams brothers” and added that “it’s scary when you really look at them.” He was suspended for a year by the WTA and Serena Williams said of his comments, “I thought they were very insensitive and extremely sexist as well as racist at the same time. I thought they were in a way bullying. ”